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Dependent benefits extended to gay and lesbian spouses in Italy

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Same-sex spouses of U.S. servicemembers and Defense Department civilians assigned to Italy have been granted command sponsorship, allowing them access to base facilities and other benefits available to heterosexual families.

“This will allow same-sex spouses of servicemembers and civilians to be assigned as ‘dependent’ immediately,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nathan J. Christensen wrote Thursday in an email to Stars and Stripes.

The American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military spouses and their families, issued a statement Thursday commending the decision to add Italy to the list of available assignments outside the United States for same-sex couples.

“The long awaited addition of Italy to the available locations for same-sex spouses to be sponsored is certainly welcome news for many of our servicemembers who have already received orders there and had to leave their families behind or are soon to receive orders there,” said Stephen Peters, the organization’s president, in the statement.

Prior to the change, Italy was among a number of foreign countries hosting U.S. military personnel in which the Defense Department did not extend full benefits to gay and lesbian families.

Same-sex spouses were denied “command sponsorship” to duty stations in Italy due to concerns that same-sex spouses were not covered under the status of forces agreement, the AMPA statement says.

One of the most important benefits of command sponsorship is that it provides military dependents exemptions from passport and visa regulations, allowing them to remain continuously in country.

Italy’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that while Italian law does not recognize same-sex marriages, same-sex spouses will be considered as dependents under SOFA, according to DOD.

“Hopefully now, families who had to remain behind will be quickly reunited with their servicemember,” Peters wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes. He said the change would also help spouses currently on tourist visas looking for employers to sponsor them.

It’s unknown how many people in Italy will be affected by the change. Christensen said combatant commands are working with State Department representatives to help clarify how host nations in the SOFA interpret the definition of “dependent” as it pertains to U.S. command-sponsored, same-sex spouses.

In addition to Italy, command sponsorship has been added for same-sex military and DOD civilian dependents in Norway, Finland and Cyprus, bringing the total number of foreign countries that now allow command-sponsored gay and lesbian families to 20, according to DOD.

Command-sponsorship is still elusive for same-sex military and civilian spouses in Germany, where about 43,000 U.S. military personnel are assigned. Germany recognizes same-sex civil unions but not marriages.

In Asia, same-sex military spouses have command sponsorship in Japan. Command sponsorship is not offered to same-sex DOD couples in Korea, although they have been granted some marriage benefits.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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